Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee is on track to win the Dáil seat once held by her late father in Meath East.
With tallies complete and counting continuing in earnest, the 26-year-old is set to become one of the country’s youngest TDs after a tight by-election race with Fianna Fáil.
Ms McEntee secured around 39% of the vote, ahead of her closest rival Thomas Byrne with about 34%.
Junior coalition partner Labour suffered a humiliating defeat, polling behind rivals Sinn Féin and a Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) candidate.
Early indicators at the count in Ashbourne suggested a voter turnout of 24,621, representing just over a third of the electorate at 37.95%.
Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke secured around 13%, Direct Democracy’s Ben Gilroy about 6% and Labour’s Eoin Holmes received just 4%.
The likely victory will also be a massive boost for Fine Gael after reversing the trend of ruling parties being wiped out in by-elections.
Ms McEntee is set to succeed her father, former junior minister Shane McEntee, who died just before Christmas.
Pundits would not predict the winner during the campaign, saying the race was too close to call between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, with the latter showing strong signs of resurgence in the opinion polls.
There was a difference of about 4% between both candidates throughout most of the count. Poll positions remained fairly steady among the other candidates with only slight changes in the running order after some independents pulled in local support.
Eleven candidates ran in the by-election. The others included the Green Party’s Sean O’Buachalla, Workers’ Party candidate Seamus McDonagh and independents Charlie Keddy, Mick Martin, Gerard O’Brien and Jim Tallon.
The voter turnout was considered poor, considering the country’s last by-election – held in October 2011 following the death of former finance minister Brian Lenihan – saw 58% of the electorate cast their vote.
The ongoing wintry weather and snow falls throughout Wednesday may well have kept would-be voters away from the stations. A general lack of interest among voters during the election campaign has also been blamed.
Ms McEntee will no doubt have won votes from her late father’s supporters and the strong farming network he was heavily involved with. There has also been sympathy among voters for her campaign following her father’s untimely death.